Embarrassed Pentagon officials admitted last week that most of the bombs
recently dropped on Iraq by U.S. and British warplanes missed their mark. When
will they admit that the bombing itself violates international law and could
well be characterized as state terrorism?
That's unlikely to happen, although there are no United Nations resolutions
that justify attacking Iraq for violating the so-called "no-fly zones."
The U.S. and Britain superimposed these illusory zones following the 1991
Persian Gulf War ostensibly to protect Kurd and Shiite dissidents from the
wrath of dictator Saddam Hussein. But soon it became a pretext for prosecuting
a quiet war against Iraq, allowing the U.S. military, with considerable
British support, to launch air strikes whenever it felt sufficiently provoked.
The United States was conducting "a low-grade war, fashioned by the
military and the (Clinton) administration without public debate, aimed at
salvaging the administration's `containment' policy toward Saddam Hussein and
destabilizing his regime," wrote the Washington Post on March 7, 1999.
Apparently, the Bush administration is picking up the Clinton
administration's policy of state terrorism. Although we think of terrorism as
an exclusive tactic of the weak, the "smart bombs" dropped without the
justification of self-defense or international legality are just as
representative of terrorism as suicide bombs exploded on buses.
We've dropped tons of illegal "smart bombs" on Iraq's people. Despite that,
Hussein remains ensconced as Iraq's leader and is gaining new esteem in other
parts of the Arab world. His financial support for the survivors of those
killed or injured during the Palestinians' recent protests against Israeli
occupation has made him a hero to many Palestinians. If U.S policy was
designed to oust Hussein and isolate his regime, it has failed miserably.
By continuing this flawed policy, President Bush is dashing the hopes of
many (including the majority of Arab-Americans who voted for him) who assumed
he would alter the nation's ineffective Mideast policy. Those assumptions were
well founded; during the campaign, Bush left Arab-American groups with little
doubt that his election would prompt a policy shift.
What's more, this hoped-for policy change is something one would expect
from the son of the first President Bush. In 1991, the father organized
wide-ranging opposition to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and one of the elder
Bush's bargaining chips was the implicit understanding he would bring balance
to U.S. Middle East policy. That is, he would ease America's bias toward
Israel. Since many of the officials in the first Bush administration now serve
his son (including Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, then the secretary of
defense), it was reasonable to expect some policy continuity.
Powell has suggested as much in statements regarding his visit this week to
the Middle East. He has suggested the administration would take a more
regional approach to problems in the troubled area. That's State Department
lingo for showing more concern for the sensitivities of the Arab states while
becoming less pro-Israel, or at least less blatantly so.
But the administration's illegal bombings and use of Saddam demonology for
justification hearkens back to the tired tactics of the past. There is no UN
support for the policy because Iraq has violated no resolutions. Instead, the
attacks have burnished Hussein's luster as an Arab hero who has defied the
dictates of the world's most powerful nation and survived.
Meanwhile, these Arab nations watch the U.S. offer uncritical support to
Israel, which regularly violates UN resolutions by expanding settlements on
occupied land. The recent election of Ariel Sharon, devoted champion of
expanded settlements, as Israel's prime minister has added another level of
frustration to supporters of the Palestinians. Sharon is known for his
hard-line military tactics and is deeply hated by many Arabs. He was the
architect of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and was deemed partially culpable
(even by an Israeli commission) for the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees
at the Sabra and Shatila camps near Beirut.
Distressingly, Sharon ascended to leadership on the back of a Palestinian
rebellion that he himself triggered with a visit to an Islamic holy site on
America's cavalier reaction to Sharon's rise to power illustrates our
double standards on Mideast policy like little else. The illegal bombings of
Baghdad put an exclamation point on it.
Salim Muwakkil is an editor at In These Times
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune